After publishing his ninth book, Kirk Douglas ascended the stage at Sinai Temple on Thursday, June 14 and kicked back for some casual conversation with Rabbbi David Wolpe, his spiritual mentor and friend. The most engaging aspect of this evening was Douglas’s charisma and humor, so we decided to reiterate the wisdom of a timeless movie star and an admirable man. Below are direct quotes from the discussion and following that, some poignant excerpts from his book, “Let’s Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning.”
“I like being old because when you make a mistake, people forgive you. They say ‘he’s 90 for goodness sake!’”
“It is so important for us as Americans to preserve the land of Israel, which is in dire need of our help. We must do everything we can to help Israel - in doing that, we demonstrate our priorities as Jews.”
On his stroke:
“For a guy who can’t talk, I talk a lot!”
“What I learned from my stroke is that we take so much for granted in life—speech—when you have something to say, you say it. You don’t think about your teeth, tongue and lips. I work out everyday, not to take my physical being for granted. My stroke taught me how to deal with despair. The only way to get through is to think about others. Suicide is selfish because you’re not thinking of what you’re leaving behind, you’re only thinking of yourself. My stroke was the most important thing that’s happened to me.”
On what he’d say to G-d:
“Thank you. You’ve been very good to me.”
An anecdote by Rabbi Wolpe:
“A while back you told me you felt guilty using your stroke to get people to pay attention to you, and I said, people use different things to get noticed - when you were younger, you used your looks, but you said, ‘I never thought I was good looking,’ and I said, ‘Well you used charm’ and you said, ‘Oh I always knew I was charming.’”
Excerpts from his book:
An actor lives many lives. I have been a cowboy, a sailor, a soldier, a policeman, and an artist. You just go from one life to another. As I grow older I have less desire to erase myself and create another character. I have done that for so many years and with so many characters. I don’t want to erase myself now. I want to delve within myself and see what I find.
...When my father was dying I went to visit him, stayed a short time, and told him I had to go. When he asked me to stay longer, I answered, “Pa, you had your kids and now I have mine. Michael and Joel are waiting for me in New York.” I started to leave, and these were the last words I heard my father mutter, “I will never see you again.”...I left. I was cruel. I was trying to hurt him because he never gave me a pat on the back. I mean, I wanted him to recognize me—to be proud of me. I wanted him to love me.
This book is for…my grandchildren. I want them to know more about Pappy. I want them to know how I see things at this point in my life—maybe it will help them avoid the mistakes I made. I love all of you very much. I won’t be around when most of you reach maturity, but I hope you will find a belief in a higher power that will lead you to be good citizens and help others.
How can we apologize for these awful crimes we inflicted [American slavery]? Our apology would best be expressed by trying to solve the problems that exist in Africa now—genocide, poverty, rape, starvation, and corruption…The apology should be a gigantic movement of money, food, personnel, and the military. It should be comparable to the Marshall plan at the end of World War II. At that time, the world looked approvingly upon our country because we showed concern for others.
Why have I gotten so many reprieves from my inevitable end? Why do so many good people die young and so many bad people live to a ripe old age? No one knows, but I feel that every brush I had with death changed me and made me a better person. I began to think less about myself and more about other people. If I survive a couple more near-death experiences, I might become a very good guy.